Sunday, December 9, 2012

Twenty Years After (The d'Artagnan Romances #2) by Alexandre Dumas


*** Warning: This review contains spoilers! ***

Before reading this book, if you had asked me whether or not I enjoy reading historical fiction, I would have quickly answered, "No." In my opinion, most prominent historical figures actually led interesting lives, so why bother making stuff up about them? I was once turned off by a historical fiction book about John F. Kennedy - it just seemed a bit ridiculous. Here's a man whose place in American history is larger than life, and dozens of biographies have been written about various aspects of his personal and political life - why make up a story when there are fascinating true stories to be told?

It wasn't until I started reading Twenty Years After that I had a sudden epiphany: the "d'Artagnan Romances" are all historical fiction! While reading The Three Musketeers, of course I knew that the King of France, Anne of Austria, and Richelieu were real people, and along the way I found out that d'Artagnan himself was an actual person, too! But I didn't put the "historical fiction" label on the series until I started reading Twenty Years After and found myself Googling "Mazarin" and "Frondist". I gradually realized that the reason I so much enjoy Alexandre Dumas's historical fiction, while shunning other historical fiction I have encountered in the past, is because - perhaps to the chagrin of my high school world history teacher - I literally had absolutely zero knowledge of the English and French historical figures in his books. I might as well have been reading about fictional characters. For a while, when the four friends were perpetually on the verge of saving England's King Charles I, I was in such suspense! Not having any clue about the life and death of King Charles I, I really didn't know - would they save him or not?! Haha. (The same thing happened to me in reading The Three Musketeers. For the well-educated student of history, wondering whether or not John Felton would succeed in assassinating the Duke of Buckingham is perhaps like wondering whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald would succeed in assassinating John F. Kennedy.) On the other hand, I am so well acquainted - simply by being an American - with John F. Kennedy's life story that I just couldn't take the jump to fictionalizing him.

Anyway, the actual historical context of this book was even more confusing than it was in The Three Musketeers. So you had Mazarinists and Frondists, but then what of the many dukes and princes!? I couldn't really figure out or keep track of who was on which side, or whether or not that information was really important to the story anyway. All I knew is that the four friends found themselves in opposing political parties, and that really bummed me out.

It really was kind of sad to see middle-aged versions of the musketeers, though I guess d'Artagnan was the only one who I really sort of pitied. Athos was in a good place, and even if Aramis was perpetually conflicted about whether he was truly an abbe or a musketeer, at least he managed to keep himself involved. Porthos, of course, wished for a barony, but since Mousqueton was so happy with their life, I found Porthos's wistfulness more comical than anything else. (Indeed, Porthos was frequently much more the comic relief in this book than in the previous one.) d'Artagnan, though, was still, after twenty years, only a lieutenant! Dumas poignantly described him in this way: "So long as he was surrounded by his friends he retained his youth and the poetry of his character... Athos imparted to him his greatness of soul, Porthos his enthusiasm, Aramis his elegance. Had D'Artagnan continued his intimacy with these three men he would have become a superior character." Alas, they had separated.

It was satisfying to see that the original three musketeers still had their original lackeys in their service. Planchet alone had gone his own way, and he had his own part to play in this story. Happily, he still had a special place in his heart for d'Artagnan.

Like The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After wasn't really a funny book overall, but it had moments of comical genius. Honestly, I laughed out loud when d'Artagnan spoke of the biscuits as "veritable sponges", and I even related the excerpt to Ken!

In so many ways, Twenty Years After was a great continuation of The Three Musketeers. There's plenty of swashbuckling and action, and such honor! Such nobility! Even more than before, we see examples of d'Artagnan's cleverness.

Sadly, in the end, we see the four friends part once again. I can't pick up the next volume in the series fast enough.

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